Palm Zire Review

By: Dan Royea,
October 7, 2002

Zire Introduction: Palm Inc. is revamping much of its handheld line for Fall 2002 and the first model released is the Zire, an entry-level device introduced at a new low price point: $99. With it's basic feature set, it isn't the kind of device that PIC regulars are going to get overly excited about, but it should appeal to a lot of people who might not have seriously considered getting a PDA before.

Design: First impressions are always important, and the Zire makes a good one with a sleek, clean design that feels great in the hand. The glossy white face and contrasting metallic grey back and button cluster have an attractive modern look. It's also pleasingly compact (approximately m515 size) and noticably lightweight (3.8 oz) so the "pocket-ability" factor is great!

A questionable design decision is the non-standard 4-button cluster, which has Date Book on the left, Address on the right and Up and Down scroll buttons. The power button sits to the left. The omission of the ToDo and Memo buttons may simplify things, but the few apps (notably games) that remap the buttons to other functions aren't going to work. The four buttons share a central indent so navigation by feel is easy to adapt to. Pressing the buttons produces a soft tactile click.

A flush black panel on top ofin the Zire hides the infrared transceiver and includes jacks for the mini-USB and power connectors. These are the only connectors, so none of the "Palm Universal Connector" accessories will work with the Zire.

Hardware: Although it runs the latest Palm OS 4.1, the electronic componentry is definitely entry-level - the processor is the basic 16MHz Dragonball EZ and there's a meagre 2MB of RAM. Out of the box, only 1.8MB memory is available for data and additional applications.

Palm Zire TopThe screen is a 160x160 pixel, 16-level greyscale with great contrast comparable to the m500. (note: the scans here really don't do it justice!) It is also on the small side (2.0" across vs. 2.25" on an m500). Now here's a shocker -- there is NO backlight, the only Palm OS device to not have this feature since the original 1996 pilot! While this undoubtably helps keep the cost down and will extend battery life greatly, the screen just won't be viewable in dimly-lit areas or in the dark. Hrmmm.

The screen uses a plastic digitizer layer instead of a fragile glass one, and doesn't suffer from the mushy feel of some other handhelds - Graffiti input feels solid and responsive. The Graffiti area silkscreen print includes little Clock and Contrast tap-icons and the newer star-shaped Favorites replacing the older Calculator. By default, this is set to HotSync, but it can be remapped to any application.

The stylus is a basic plastic "stick" with no reset pin. It docks securely in the silo with a satisfying click, but because there is no protrusion or texture on the exposed end, it is tricky to remove without using a fingernail.

One area where Palm Inc. didn't skimp out is the power source, a rechargeable lithium ion (LiIon) battery. With the Zire's minimalist electronic componentry and lack of backlight, this handheld should have excellent battery life. The included 5V 300mA AC adapter tops up the battery in a couple of hours and there's a Preferences setting to keep the device on while charging.

For alarms and system sounds, Palm uses an old-style piezo disc "speaker", with a relatively weak volume. New users who expect to use their Zire for an alarm clock had better be light sleepers.

Connectivity is via the mini-USB port and an included USB connector cable. The cable has no HotSync button, so syncing must be initiated from the application. Standard IrDA is also included so the Zire can beam with other Palm OS devices or even Ir-sync with a suitably equipped laptop or PC.

Zire flip-lidThe included flip cover is made from a flexible, translucent blue material that anchors securely into a lateral slot in the back and wraps over the top to cover the face. Its low profile design adds only 2mm to the overall depth of the device. Because it is flexible, it should protect the screen from scratches, but it's not very effective at keeping the buttons from being pressed and offers marginal screen protection from impacts. Worse, the elastomeric compound has an annoying tendency to flop back onto the screen after you flip it open. It can be held against the back of the handheld to keep it in place, but it wouldn't be surprising if most flip-lids quickly end up in a drawer. Palm should have substituted a couple of removable screen protectors and spared users from this FlipFlapFlop ;-)

Size & Weight: 4.4" x 2.9" x 0.6"; 3.8 oz.
Processor: 16MHz Dragonball EZ; OS 4.1
Memory: 2MB RAM (1.8MB avail.); 2MB mask ROM
Screen: 160x160 pixel; 16-grey; no backlight
Audio: piezoelectric speaker
Power: LiIon (3.7V, 600 mAh)
Connectivity: mini-USB with cable, IrDA

For the technically-curious, here's a look at the internals:

Zire internals

Software: The Zire comes preloaded with only the core set of Palm OS PIM and System applications, plus Expense and Palm Inc.'s own Clock and NotePad apps. No Mail app though, probably to prevent users from filling up the limited memory. A nice touch first seen on the m100: pressing the Up button when the device is off pops up the time and date for a couple of seconds.

Bundled applications are pretty basic: the included CD-ROM has a few familiar games (Giraffe, Hardball, Minehunt and Puzzle). Also on the CD are the latest vesions of Palm Desktop for Windows and Mac, as well as Chapura PocketMirror for syncing with MS Outlook.

Because the device runs Palm OS 4.1, it is fully compatible with the majority of available applications (the main exception being those that rely on having the standard set of hardware buttons). The ROM includes the standard libraries to support TCP/IP, Network Syncing, etc. so nifty tricks such as getting an Internet connection via an Ir & modem-equipped cell phone are possible. The main software limitation is simply the small amount of memory available. It could be argued that 2MB will be more than adequate for the intended target market, but a new user who develops interests beyond the basics is going to be looking at upgrading to something more capable in a hurry. Hmm, could that be part of Palm's strategy? ;-)

Market Positioning: Zire stands alone in the "sub-$100" category, a price which some say breaks a psychological purchasing barrier. Palm is aiming to broaden the market by promoting Zire to new users as a paper replacement. It will certainly be interesting to see where Zire ads pop up!

Over the last few years, Palm Inc.'s handheld price-of-admission has dropped from $229 (IIIe) to $149 (m100) to Zire's new benchmark of $99. The processor and memory specs haven't changed - they remain adequate to do the basics. The main changes in the entry-level category: the devices are getting smaller and arguably, more attractive; the USB connection and rechargeable battery are feature upgrades, with the trade-off of no backlight and 2 less buttons.

Entry-level Palms
[click on image for larger view]

Are new Zire buyers getting enough bang for their buck? Ignoring discontinued models, the next tier includes the Palm m125, the Sony SL10 and the Handspring Neo, which for an additional $50 offer processors twice as fast, four times the RAM, expansion, and yes, even a backlight! (But not the rechargeable battery.) Many power users would urge spending the extra money, but a new user might not see enough advantage for a 50% premium.

Summary: The Zire has great potential for expanding the numbers of Palm OS users. The combination of low price, attractive design and basic functionality will be a powerful purchasing incentive. The intuitive nature of the Palm OS and the rich variety of available software will compel these new users to integrate the handheld into their daily lives.

In many ways, the Zire redefines "Simply Palm".

PIC Bottom Line

  • inexpensive
  • small, sleek design
  • rechargeable battery
  • no backlight
  • limited memory with no expansion
  • non-standard 2 application buttons
  • annoying flip-lid
  • cable clutter


Design: 4 small & stylish; demerits for flip-lid
Features: 2 the basics, without being crippled
Screen: 2 crisp greyscale but no backlight
Battery: 5 rechargeable + low-power hardware = long life
Value: 5 a real Palm Powered device for $99

Related Information:

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Why don't Palm call it a retro model?

peter167 @ 10/7/2002 11:05:30 AM #
Everything goes one grade down, except the price. sigh...

Lie is the future.
RE: Why don't Palm call it a retro model?
EdH @ 10/7/2002 11:42:36 AM #
16MHz processor
2MB RAM (1.8 usable)
No backlight
plastic digitizer
No universal connector

Just a bit too retro IMHO. I'd rather have a used M100. I think the backlight issue is a huge fumble. We'll see how well it sells. When the original Pilot shipped, it was the first and backlights weren't assumed. Now even free cellphones have a backlight so you can see at night or in a dimly lit room. I wonder how many will be returned when the user figures this out.

RE: Why don't Palm call it a retro model?
Ce @ 10/7/2002 12:51:05 PM #
believe's a hell of a job to disassemble thousands and thousands of old Palm Pilots and solder all those old parts in a new casing. Well worth 99 dollar!

RE: Why don't Palm call it a retro model?
jamesgood72 @ 10/7/2002 1:36:05 PM #
My original Pilot didn't have a back-light and it was still a VERY usable device...
RE: Why don't Palm call it a retro model?
LotSolarin @ 10/7/2002 2:08:10 PM #
Although I'm pretty sure I agree with Palm's logic in letting go of the backlight, I can't help but think that this may hurt Zire's chances as the "gateway drug" that it is meant to be. If people cannot use it in bad light, their Palm may find its way into the drawer instead of their pockets, and these people will not think of upgrading.

Of course, I could easily be wrong. Palm certainly has more usability data than I do. And every feature that they leave out of this little puppy is one more carrot for people to break into upper end models later.

RE: Why don't Palm call it a retro model?
Bmann @ 10/7/2002 2:26:04 PM #
Palms backlight has sucked since my palm VII. The inverted backlight made it unreadable except for totally dark conditions. Now I think a PDA should have backlight, but like the old palm professional.

My boss had the orignal palm with no backlight and the original merky screen and it was very hard to see.

RE: Why don't Palm call it a retro model?
rsa @ 10/9/2002 1:57:46 AM #
Ever wonder what "Zire" means?

ZIRE is extinct language of NEW Caledonia
Zire is reported to be extinct. No mother tongue speakers. There are apparently a few who learned it as second language. Grammar. Extinct.

Hopefully, Palm has done enough research not to cause the same fate to ZIRE.

RE: Why don't Palm call it a retro model?
zireuser @ 9/19/2005 8:55:44 PM #
anyone who has somthing negative to say about the zire, please consider this-
i have dropped my zire down FLIGHTS OF STAIRS and it still works perfectly
it was made to be a student model
not a damn mp3 player/digital camera/laptop replacment
that is why it is palms most durable model
so stop putting it down!


Sounds Like a decent strategy

soundguise @ 10/7/2002 11:14:16 AM #
I for one am always glad to hear of new palm devices. Of course that means that the older devices get price cuts and the like. Nice for all. Plus new devices build interest and publicity for the platform.

In terms of how well this new low-end-technophobe targeted device will sell. I thinks so. I know that my roomate has purchased two discounted m100s as x-mas presents for family and all have been quite pleased. Just as palm probably hopes with this zire they have now decided that their current devices just aren't expandable enough and they need to upgrade.

As far as the no UC goes, In my experience only the "power-user" types, myself included really get into the mass add-on market. Excluding, in my experience, cases.

So in all I think this is a good move for palm. Or course I would have liked to see the Zire with 4-8M RAM but you can't have everything for $100 and still make money (which by the way is an important thing for any company to stick around).

Anyway just my $0.02.


RE: Sounds Like a decent strategy
Nate @ 10/7/2002 1:09:21 PM #
I dunno. I think that it's a good move in general to expand the user base by bringing in more people with a super low-end model, but the danger with the Zire is that even if newbies buy it, they may not like it because of the lack of features.

There are two main weaknesses of the Zire; the backlight and the buttons. The lack of a backlight will leave many newbies thinking that Palms are not useful in any situation where lighting is irregular -- if the user can't make use of it on a plane, in the car, or in a dimly lit closet, chances are they are going to start viewing the Palm as an object that they can only make use of some of the time. That attitude will not lead them to upgrade to another Palm.

The button issue is bigger than I originally thought because of the problems with programs that remap the buttons. Sure, most Palm users don't download new stuff, but somebody who just spent $100 on an organizer with the Palm name on it has the right to expect that it's compatible with all the other Palms out there that their friends have. As soon as they get beamed a copy of some pac-man clone and they can't play it easily, they'll start thinking that Palms aren't as compatible with each other. That lends credence to the argument that PPC OS is more "compatible". If they ever bother to upgrade, they'll be more likely to go with the PPC.

There's also a growing problem with overall software compatibility with the new OS5 coming out. One of the major problems facing PPC at first was that there were all these different version of the OS, and different chips inside, so users had to find programs that were not just compatible for the OS, but for their individual handheld. That leads to confusion and frustration, and that's exactly where Palm is heading if they continue to split the field with different OSs running on different chips.

RE: Sounds Like a decent strategy
SabMary @ 10/7/2002 1:20:48 PM #
I agree with you. I think the only purpose for this new device is to expand Palm's customer base. I don't think this unit is meant to dazzle current Palm users. I can't wait to see the new Tungsten!
RE: Sounds Like a decent strategy
peter167 @ 10/7/2002 5:49:58 PM #
A decent strategy? Not even close. At $99, the Palm executives thought it will be an impulse purchase. I think he better needs some rethinking. I only see items below $10 for impulse purchase, instead of $100.

(If $100 is an impulse purchase, then the Son PS One should be selling on the counter as well.)

Palm hopes to sell boat load of these units to consumers, but the type of consumers they are trying to target is the most price conscicous group. "An $100 for an organizer? No deal!" Just like we normally don't spend more than $50 for a calculator.

The worst effect of putting the Zire line in K-mart store and etc. is that it degrades the Palm hi-tech image. General consumers will stop purchasing other high-end Palm units because the kid sitting beside you are playing with his/her Zire when his/her mom is pushing him to eat faster because he will be late to school. Imagine this...

Just like no one will buy a Hyundai if it is priced over $30000, no matter how classy the vehicle is. It is because Hyundai means cheap, economic, bread-and-butter vehicles.

The Zire will be an absolute failure. The current units cannot move at $100; lowers it to $60 and it may sell. But then, no one will buy the high-end Palm units anymore because of this cheap K-mart image. It will be a lose-lose situation for Palm, no matter how it turns out. Hopefully, Palm OS will have a more successful in the near future.

The top Palm exec. and employees have to be removed, or we'll se the company being remove, not very soon.

Lie is the future.

RE: Sounds Like a decent strategy
SarahHeacock @ 10/7/2002 7:50:35 PM #
$50 is an impulse purchase for me.

Hardly anything is under $10 anymore.

I think impulse purchase sets at different places for different people.

RE: Sounds Like a decent strategy
bzi99 @ 10/8/2002 6:11:26 AM #
The worst effect of putting the Zire line in K-mart store and etc. is that it degrades the Palm hi-tech image.

IMHO, for the general public Palm has lost the image of a hi-tech company long ago. First to Handspring, now to Sony. And I won't even mention PPC :-|

The new smartphone w/o mic and speaker is a good example of a clueless company and may degrade Palm's "tech" image even further.


RE: Sounds Like a decent strategy
TapPadGuy @ 10/8/2002 7:24:48 PM #
Personally I think they WILL sell a ton of these, but I guess we'll see shortly. To the average consumer, Palm definitely has a hi-tech image, and $99 for a Palm device is certainly low in their minds. I don't know if I'd go so far as to say it's an impulse buy though. If anyone can succeed at this strategy, it's Palm, because of their reputation... "Wow, a PalmPilot for $99. I want one." I can't see this happening with Sony or Handspring or anyone else. Just MHO.

RE: Sounds Like a decent strategy
peter167 @ 10/8/2002 8:01:43 PM #
IF you did read news from Reuters, a Palm spokeperson says the Zire will be placed near where batteries and bubble gums sell. I believe bubble gums and batteries will not cost more than $10, not even a Car and Driver magazine.

Impulse purchases means that the items you purchase when you are queueing to pay the cashier. Not any items you would like to purchase 'impusely'. That's why I say I have never seen products on the counters that exceeds $10, especially @ Target and K-mart.

Lie is the future.

RE: Sounds Like a decent strategy
stupidnewpolicy @ 10/9/2002 9:06:07 AM #
I agree that bringing in more consumer-level customers is a good thing for PDAs in general, and Palm in specific. But I can't help but wonder just what the cost-limiting factor is in their component list.

160x160 non-color screens have GOT to be cheap by now. If Palm-based PDA vendors haven't gotten a satifactory arrangement by now on those things, they never will. It makes me wonder at their negotiating abilities.

Memory has gotten so cheap now, 2MB is almost an insult. How much could it possibly cost to add 6MB more RAM?

Batteries are still an issue, to be sure, but it just seems like they could put together a nicer unit for $100 and stil turn a profit.

I had a IIIe and felt limited by it nearly immediately. If I had paid $100 for it, it might have turned me off PDAs altogether. As I paid less than half that for my IIIe, I eagerly moved forward to the IIIc. If Palm wants people to do the same, they need a bit more bang in the beginning. Or for what the Zire is touting, an even lower price.


RE: Sounds Like a decent strategy
lgodfrey @ 4/21/2003 11:22:30 PM #
I got the Zire for free when I bought 4 new michelin tires. This is great because I have always wanted to see if I would use a palm but why would I spend a couple of hundred dollars on something I might not use? The Zire has enough features on it to get me going. If I like it I will upgrade later to a palm with more features. Great strategy by Palm! For those who think this cheapens Palm products, I have many friends who own palms and have heard about them for years. Anybody who does any research before they buy is going to find out that Palm has some of the better products on the market.

dimly-let areas or in the dark?

I.M Anonymous @ 10/7/2002 11:22:56 AM #
Great review, but there is a typo.

RE: dimly-let areas or in the dark?
Strider_mt2k @ 10/7/2002 3:08:44 PM #
Give the guy a break will ya?
He's already written about his spelling habits. And besides, it does happen to the best of us don't it?

RE: dimly-let areas or in the dark?
I.M Anonymous @ 10/7/2002 4:27:14 PM #
I did say it was a great review!

RE: dimly-let areas or in the dark?
Palm_Otaku @ 10/7/2002 4:40:53 PM #
Heh, I thought it was a PIC tradition to be the first to find the typo? Ryan, maybe you need to start awarding prizes for that!

Oh and IMA, thanks for the complement. You know, I used to find you frequently annoying, but I'm liking you much better these days ;o)


huggy @ 10/7/2002 11:39:16 AM #
How much ROM does it have? Is it flashable? The European version holds versions of the OS in english, french, german, italian and spanish... So I guess If it was flashable you could use jackflash to get an extra Mb or two...

-------------- huggy ---------------
huggy @ 10/7/2002 11:41:27 AM #
Apart from that... I've never seen a review come out SO quickly after the release of the device. Man, it even has a descrambled unit photographied! Nice work. You've returned my faith in PIC :-D

-------------- huggy ---------------
Palm_Otaku @ 10/7/2002 11:44:52 AM #
Check the "Specs" table: 2MB mask ROM -- sorry, I should have spelled that out in the text too...

Thanks for the nice comments huggy -- the Zire didn't arrive until Saturday afternoon, so it was a pretty busy weekend doing the reasearch and writing ;)

BTW, PIC readers, please feel free to ask any questions and I'll do my best to answer them :)

- Dan

Great Review

bjbyrne @ 10/7/2002 11:51:15 AM #
Even though my 6 year old uses more advanced palm hardware, I would like to thank Dan for the great review. I hope to see more like it. BJ
RE: Great Review
Palm_Otaku @ 10/7/2002 12:14:35 PM #
Thanks BJ :)

FWIW, the clear IIIe in the picture belongs to my eldest, who's now 7 and he keeps bugging me to upgrade him to a color screen device that plays mp3s

The fruit doesn't fall far from the tree, does it?

RE: Great Review
terrysalmi @ 10/7/2002 12:15:00 PM #
I'd like to second this. This was an EXCELLENT review, and I hope to see this author return to PalmInfoCenter and continue to write such detailed and descriptive reviews - I love how it does not explain just the device, but the marketing strategy behind the device.

The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.
-Hubert Humphrey
RE: Great Review
Altema @ 10/7/2002 1:20:29 PM #
I'll third that comment. Detailed, honest, AND entertaining. Looking forward to more reviews. Seems like you could write a review about a peice of paper and make it interesting. Oh, wait, Zire is the replacement for the paper...

RE: Great Review
re_ality @ 10/7/2002 1:29:01 PM #
you guys are so damn fast - great review! :top:

Palmusergroup Mannheim/Germany -
RE: Great Review
tmuralli @ 10/8/2002 6:03:54 AM #
I have to agree with you, PIC's review is getting better but sadly without Ed Hardy.

RE: Great Review
pietersj @ 10/8/2002 6:56:56 AM #
the same for me : this is a WAW-review!!!!!!!
RE: Great Review
Palm_Otaku @ 10/8/2002 9:56:46 PM #
Sorry, but I have to ask:


Wild-Ass Wicked?
Without Any Worth?
Whoa - Amazing Wisdom?
What Assinine Words?


first Zire sucks post

chainrust @ 10/7/2002 11:54:20 AM #

RE: first Zire sucks post
kozmos @ 10/7/2002 12:17:40 PM #
Very, very good review. Congrats!

RE: first Zire sucks post
markgm @ 10/7/2002 12:22:35 PM #
And there you have it, doing away with anonymous doesn't do away with morons ;-). The Zire seems like it could have been my first Palm back when I wasn't sure if I'd use one. It is useful enough to get a feel for the platform, and cheap enough that I won't feel bad if I find I like my paper planner. (Back when I got my first Handspring I never thought I would pay $600 for a future model, now, thanks to the Visor, I have a nr70v.) Though like a lot of the opinions here, if I was getting a Palm for my Mom, I'd have to look to eBay.

puppy dog technique
emotive @ 10/7/2002 11:33:32 PM #
I'm with you. After I lost my 128kB Sharp organiser and all the data I bought a Palm Pro for A$300 (US$150) in 1998, and never considered spending more. Then 18 months later I was addicted to using the thing and was seduced by the slimline rechargeable Palm V with the better screen, which I bought. And 2 years later, I was screaming for more room, and colour, and bought the M515. I never would have thought I would spend A$800 on an organiser back in 1998, and never would have if I hadn't bought a more basic model first. It is now my second brain.

RE: first Zire sucks post
Fly-By-Night @ 10/8/2002 6:23:10 AM #
I agree. When I bought my Visor DLX, the only reason I didn't buy the 2Mb model is because they only had 8Mb models in the shop. Back then I didn't know anybody with a Palm, and I didn't know about the vast quantities of software out there. I never realised that AvantGo, Vindigo, Wordsmith, and a few games could so quickly fill a Palm device.

Looking forward to Sony's next OS5 device though... Hopefully be nice and small.


RE: first Zire sucks post
agunn @ 10/8/2002 9:57:04 AM #
Hey emotive,

That almost sounds like my path :) I started with the Newton Message Pad before ditching it for a Palm Personal. Then came the Vx, and now A m515.

Like emotive, there is no way I would have spent over A$800 for a PDA unless I knew what I was getting. The basic features of the Palm Personal were enough to get me hooked.

I think the Zire is a great move, and hope it sells well.

I lent my Palm Personal to a friend of mine and he has been using it ever since. He can't afford any of the palm models available at the moment, so I'm hoping he'll buy himself a Zire when they come out - and I can my old palm back :-)

RE: first Zire sucks post
zireuser @ 9/19/2005 9:05:00 PM #
if you think palm sucks then what are you doing registred to a website called PALM INFO CENTER?
just wondering

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